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Proposed zoning change would limit heights of buildings in Salem center

SALEM – A proposed zoning amendment would set a height limit for new buildings in the town center district.

Currently, there is no height restriction in the district, according to Town Planning Director Ross Moldoff.

“The idea is to put in a maximum height of three stories, or 45 feet,” said Moldoff. As in other zoning districts, developers would be able to request a variance from the height limit.

The maximum height in the zoning bylaws for rural and residential districts is 35 feet. In commercial and industrial districts it is 45 feet.

“Builders were saying that it was hard to build three stories at 35 feet, which is why we allow office buildings of three stories and 45 feet,” said Moldoff.

The tallest building in town is a six-story Holiday Inn that was allowed by variance, according to Moldoff.Planning Board Chairman Ed Declercq noted that without the height restriction, developers could go up to eight stories in the district.

“It is a very limited district around Geremonty Drive, Veterans Parkway, and Lawrence Road, but there is nothing that restricts that,” said Moldoff. “It seems to me we ought to put something in there.”

Board member Ron Belanger said he would be hesitant about limiting the building height limits in the district if it would restrict development and redevelopment.

Board member Phyllis O'Grady also noted that the board has the ability to limit what a new building in the district can look like if it is not consistent with other development, such as the high school, town hall, and library.

“I think we should have something to protect the town,” said Moldoff. “With no height limit, someone could come in and say they want to build 15 stories and we say it's not consistent with the district, but then they would ask why it's not in the ordinance.”

Board member Linda Harvey suggested the planning board take a look at the zoning map to see what parcels in the town center district are still open space and what lots are available for potential development and redevelopment.

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